When Justin Holman was 4 years old, his mother Carmen asked him and his brother what they wanted to be when they grew up. Holman’s brother, Joshua Winters, said he wanted to be a policeman or a fireman. But Holman’s answer differed a bit.
“I want to play football, and I want to be a doctor. I want to be on TV, and I want everyone to see my picture,” Holman recalled from that day. He has completed 108 of 208 passes for 1,153 yards six touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season.
The inspiration to become a doctor came from his mother as he was growing up.
And so did the importance of an education.
“My mom, she didn’t care about sports,” the health sciences, pre-clinical major said. “If I did bad on a test or if I … missed an assignment, my mom wouldn’t let me go to practice.
“She would bar me from games because that’s how important education was to her.”
But Holman was only barred from football once in his life. In seventh grade, he received a week-long parental suspension because he was kicked out of class for reading a football magazine.
“The only way I could punish him was through football,” his mother said. “Taking his phone, or taking his TV didn’t hurt him. That’s the only punishment I could do.”
Since then, she saw her son take his childhood dream of becoming a doctor seriously.
During Holman’s senior year of high school, he became a certified nursing assistant.
With a football game each Friday night, he spent his Saturdays working 12-hour shifts at Life Care Center of Lawrenceville in Georgia, where he helped the elderly shower and dress.
His mom was his inspiration for taking his passion further.
“Seeing her work two, three jobs in the healthcare field, I was always interested when she came home and told me stories,” said Holman. “[One time], when my mom took me to a job, there was this baby boy that was deaf and blind. He always had a smile on his face, [and] it really humbled me.
“I always remember I wanted to help people with any type of health ailment.”
Playing football was also a dream he wanted to pursue. He drew inspiration from his father, Xavier Thomas, who used to play.
“My influence is [solely] encouraging,” Thomas said. “There’s not a day you can let up. I always taught there’s always someone else trying to take your spot.”
And Holman has never let up in any regard. Thomas knew there were those who said it would be difficult for Holman to play college football and fulfill the requirements to become a doctor.
“I thought he was nuts,” said teammate Joey Grant, who is scheduled to finish two master’s degrees in December. “His ability to juggle that and do both at a very high level is incredible.”
Both of Holman’s distinct paths have coexisted better than his parents could have anticipated. In fact, his football career helped him discover the type of doctor he wanted to be.
“I just want to be a radiologist,” Holman said. “I realized the type of doctor I wanted to be after I broke my wrist in a high-school playoff game. I was looking at the X-ray of my wrist, and I was just interested in how injuries can happen.”
Ultimately, Holman wants to be a doctor so he can take care of future generations. That’s something his mother engrained in him.
“I told him to be better than me, be better than your father,” his mother said. “And when you have children, encourage them to be better than you. After each generation, eventually, we’ll reach excellence.”
Sixteen years after Holman innocently proclaimed to his mother that he wanted to be a football player and a doctor, he is doing the former and working toward the latter.
For him, balancing the two is not difficult.
“You just got to make sacrifices,” he said. “It’s a lot of social sacrifices that you got to make — even sometimes sacrificing sleep — but it’ll all be worth it in the end.
“I’d rather work my pen now than work my body later.”
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @_victorT24.